Nazi Policy and the Intermarriage and Mischling Dilemma

The Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935 (see blog “Loss of Citizenship the Nuremberg Way,” posted May 29, 2015) continued to be amended and fine-tuned for the next four years.  Ever stricter, these laws codified Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy and gave the Nazi regime deadly control over the Jews living in Germany and the occupied countries.

One of the stickiest problems faced by the Nazi policy makers was how to handle the situation of Jews who were married to German Gentiles and the children of these unions.

The Third Reich was always dependent on the love and support of the German populace and Hitler was keenly aware of this.  Nervous about the loss of popular loyalty, Nazi party bigwigs constantly reevaluated and discussed how the race laws and the Final Solution would be administered in regards to Jews married to fully recognized Germans.

Intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles had been a fairly common occurrence in Germany since the 1880s. More than 36,000 such unions occurred in Germany during the years 1919 to 1937!  Thus, quite a few Aryans had Jewish family members, including beloved children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews who were the offspring of these mixed marriages. Bryan Rigg, author of Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers (2002, University Press of Kansas), cites a conservative estimate of 46,000 to 69,000 half-Jewish children in Germany and Austria by 1939.

Nazi policy regarding intermarried Jews and Mischlinge (half-Jews) was constantly shifting.  Enforcement of the laws was marked by conflicting orders and impulsive decisions.  Hitler’s strategy for holding power in the Third Reich hinged on the undying devotion of the German people.  As a result, the Führer was wary of heavy-handed persecution of intermarried Jews because non-Jewish family members might object in a way that could affect public morale.  In the early years of the Third Reich, the thought was that these “gray Jews” could be dealt with later, but once the country was embroiled in war and the resulting hardships, maintaining public approval and support became even more important.

The first Race Laws of 1935 designated that anyone who had three or more Jewish grandparents was classified as a full Jew, subject to loss of citizenship and all the other laws against the Jews.  However, individuals with only two Jewish grandparents were classified as Mischling of the first degree (half-Jew), and the laws concerning them were less stringent.

Mischlinge were divided into sub-categories including:

• A first-degree Mischling who had married a Jew or had participated in the Jewish community was treated as full Jew and subject to all the same persecutions and laws.

• Mischlinge whose two Jewish grandparents had both been baptized as Christians were allowed to retain citizenship and a few other rights; however later these rights were gradually rescinded.

• Individuals who had only one Jewish grandparent were considered  Mischlinge of the second degree (quarter-Jew) and were allowed to keep German citizenship.  However, they did experience many difficulties in their working lives because of their Jewish associations.  Later Racial law restricted their military service, educational opportunities, and social activities.

During the discussions of the Final Solution in January 1941, Nazi Party officials decided to deport Mischlinge and intermarried Jews.  However, six months later, Hitler, concerned about his popularity with the German people, ordered the Gestapo to temporarily exempt these Jews from the worst actions of the Final Solution, perhaps until “after the war.”  Again in 1942, as a result of pushing by Himmler, deportation of intermarried Jews and Mischlinge was mandated, then reconsidered.  Later a mandate declared that intermarried Jews would be forcibly removed from their partners and Mischlinge could only stay in Germany if they volunteered to be sterilized.  In 1943, a final roundup of Jews in Berlin was ordered, but the relatively cautious Goebbels ordered that only intermarried Jews without children should be detained and deported.  (More about this roundup and the resulting Rosenstraße protest to come in my next blog.)

Because of these inconsistent and erratic policies, Jewish members of mixed marriages and their children experienced many degrees of persecution, were constantly in a state of disequilibrium, and lived with the continual fear of being arrested.  Jews married to Gentiles were sometimes detained during roundups and sent to one of the Eastern concentration camps, to the “model camp” Theresienstadt, or to a forced labor camp. Often, in order to avoid possible arrest, they went into hiding, protected by Aryan family members.

Mischlinge were caught between two worlds—neither fully Jewish nor considered German—they suffered social, educational, and professional difficulties in the Third Reich. However, because they did not initially lose their citizenship, Mischlinge men of draft age were required to serve in the German Army.  Many of them did not oppose the idea—perhaps their fathers and grandfathers had served in World War I or before or they may have harbored a degree of national pride. Many of them felt the army offered a way to prove their worth in the new society or they might simply have hoped their military service would help protect their Jewish relatives.

However, in March 1940, military service for Mischlinge became increasingly fraught.  A new directive required them to fill out certificates of ancestry and required that all half-Jews be discharged from the Wehrmacht (the German Army).  Quarter-Jews would also be retired or demoted unless their records showed them to be essential to the war effort. By 1943, more than 8,300 half-Jewish soldiers were discharged from the German military in spite of the fact that the army was in desperate need of additional manpower.  These men had returned home to lead somewhat restricted civilian lives.

Finally, in the summer of 1943, Göring mandated that all half-Jews not essential to the war effort in their civilian jobs, as well as any Aryans still married to Jews, would be drafted into forced labor battalions and held in camps for the duration of the war.  They were utilized for the most dangerous types of hard physical labor, anything from clearing rubble in bomb-ravaged cities to working in mines or gasoline production facilities. Herman’s Mischling cousin, the man called Max in Immigrant Soldier, as well as Max’s father who refused to divorce his Jewish wife, worked for most of the last two years of the war in one of these forced labor camps.

The confusion and ambivalence regarding how to incorporate Mischlinge and Jews married to Aryans into the Final Solution saved most of these “gray Jews” from the death camps.  At the end of the war, 98% of full-Jews who survived in Germany were in mixed marriages—a strong indicator of the power of love and loyalty.  Though life was exceedingly difficult for them and for any non-Jewish relatives who maintained contact with them, they had a chance to survive, even in the chaos of the German Reich at the end of the war.

Note:  The German word Mischling (plural: Mischlinge) was used during the Third Reich to denote persons of mixed Aryan and Jewish ancestry and embodies a negative connotation of mongrel or half-breed.


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